Upgraded Camera Equipment

My new Canon T5i and new image stabilized lenses

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One reason I’ve put down my photography over the past few months, in addition to dealing with the general upheaval in our lives, was my frustration in not being able to shoot “up close and personal” in a reliable manner.  As we all discover our own photographic styles, I’ve known this one has been missing for me.  I’ve worked around it at times with my cheaper zoom lens and tripod, but shooting with a tripod typically doesn’t fit our lifestyle when traveling.  When you know you really can’t capture many of the shots you want, it’s hard to even pick up the camera, or at least that’s how I’ve felt.

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The frustration of poor equipment. Another great shot missed due to blur while on vacation.

I’ve opted to share a fairly lengthy post today about my equipment upgrades for anyone that might be considering such an upgrade themselves, especially hobby photographers like me.  Writing about some of the finer details has also helped me to come to know my new equipment in more detail, a good learning tool.  While I opted for the Canon T5i, it is worth noting that the new T6s and T6i are now out and worthy of consideration.  My decision between the T6s and the T5i was primarily “bang for the buck.”  I also was not interested in switching brands from my previous camera.  I considered finally upgrading to a professional model camera and would be willing to spend the money for one right now.  However, the sheer size of carrying a larger camera would be problematic for me on many occasions, especially while traveling by airplane.  Again, as only a hobby photographer, it is hard to justify making that move right now.

I went to our specialty camera store and shared my desire to upgrade my telephoto lens and possibly make some other upgrades, and we looked at several options, including a fabulous Canon lens, the EF 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM.  However, at a price of $650, it would be the only real upgrade I could do at this time.  As we continued to look at other lenses, the salesman made a suggestion that I look at purchasing a camera package that would upgrade my camera, my kit lens and also get me a good telephoto lens for just slightly more money than the other telephoto lens by itself.  He brought up the fact that I probably struggled in low-light situations with my present equipment, which was absolutely correct.  Canon has a $300 rebate on this particular camera package, and the store could file the rebate for me, saving me that money upfront and leaving the price to me at only $799 plus tax.  I suspect this deal is to help Canon move their existing stock of T5i cameras to now focus on the newer T6 models.  He also explained that the higher ISO capability, paired with the better performing IS lenses, would result in significant improvement in lower light situations, something that was most definitely an issue for me with my XTi with the highest ISO of 1600 and no image stabilization available.  I would also gain a good quality telephoto lens in the package, even though it is not the original lens I looked at.  This slightly smaller lens will significantly improve my telephoto capability and will take less room to pack in a suitcase when traveling by plane.  I can’t use a lens on vacation if I don’t have room to carry it.  My wide-angle lens already takes a lot of room, too.

I left the store and looked at a few more options elsewhere that were no better than this one, so I returned and purchased the camera package.  It is a pleasure to trade with this locally owned store for my equipment purchases because they typically are no more expensive and offer more personal service, which is always important to a hobby photographer like me.  I can always use help and good advice when it is offered, and I will have the opportunity to take a free two-day class with them at some point, as they offer them every other month for people who purchase cameras in their store.

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My new Canon 700D (X5i) with the 50-250mm f/4-5.6 IS-STM lens attached.

The package included a Canon 700D (T5i) and two IS-STM lenses.  This offer was pretty much the same no matter where I looked, either in stores or online.  Not only did I get a good telephoto lens, I also got a greatly upgraded camera and an IS-STM kit lens, too.  I already own a Tokina AT-X Pro SD 12-24mm wide-angle lens, which cost about $800 when Hubby bought it for me a few years ago, so wide-angle shots have been no problem with that great lens.  My weakest link has always been my ability to shoot decent telephoto shots and decent low-light shots, and after several years of frustration, I am quite happy to have upgraded capability in these areas.

Digital Photography Review of Canon 700D (T5i) and STM Lenses

The kit lens is a EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM, and the telephoto lens is a EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM.  STM stands for “(Smooth Transitions for Motion) Stepping Motor design for quieter Autofocus, with improvements in Aperture Design, Lens Coatings, Minimum Focus Distance, Build Quality and more,” according to a recent news release about another STM lens release this month.  I am definitely no expert on these particular details, but the STM lenses seem to be good options, even though using Live View can apparently inhibit their performance somewhat.  The detailed review above tells about both the camera and the lenses in this package, and it is a multi-page review.  Just look toward the bottom and navigate through the pages.

Canon also has information on their STM lenses.

Here are the top features of the 700D (X5i) camera for me.

– Shoots 18mp photos as compared to 10mp with my previous camera.  While that size is truly getting on up there, it will provide better results when needing to crop an image.  I can always downsize photos when needed, too.  FYI – the new T6 models are now up to 24mp.

– Shoots 1080p video.  I do not anticipate using this feature often, but I have come to appreciate the value of shooting an occasional video when in a situation that cannot be fully experienced with only a photograph.  A sunset experience in Old Lahaina Town in Maui recently is a great example.  While the photo is lovely, the little video I took of the waves crashing and a fiddle player nearby “playing the sunset away” just preserved the experience beautifully.  Videos will be more for personal enjoyment and memories, and the fact that the camera has a built-in stereo microphone is especially nice.

– Maximum ISO of 12800, and 25600 expanded, which is going to be a nice feature when attempting shots in lower light, for sure, especially when combined with the IS lens capability.  This is a huge upgrade over my previous equipment.

– Ability to select different aspect ratios (3:2, 4:3, 16:9 or 1:1).  There are times that will come in handy, even though with 18mp, there is plenty of room to crop, too.

– Uses SD cards instead of compact flash cards.  I purchased a San Disk 32G Extreme Pro SD Card for only $35 that will hold over 1000 raw images or over 3500 highest-quality JPEG images.

– HDR (High Dynamic Range) capability by setting to HDR mode via “SCN” on the dial, then selecting the HDR option as a default.  The camera physically shoots three rapid photos, then merges them into one.  I know the limitations of shooting in HDR, especially the possibility of ghosting, but there are times it can be a great tool.  I use it often on my phone with pretty amazing results at times.  We’ll see how well it works on the T5i.  Unlike my phone’s HDR mode, I can hear and feel the camera snapping the three photos.

– The dial also rotates 360 degrees with no hard stop now.  It’s just the little things like this that are nice to have for a change.

– Rear LCD display screen can be rotated inside when not in use and can also rotate out and at different angles when being used.  I like that the screen can fold inside to keep it from getting scratched, and the ability to position the display in other spots may help with glare a bit.  It can also help when holding the camera higher or lower, especially if shooting in Live View.

– The LCD screen can optionally be enabled as a touchscreen in the menu settings.  A button on the back of the camera must first be pressed to enable the use as a touchscreen or the equivalent function in the lower corner must be touched, minimizing the risk of inadvertently pressing a function on the touchscreen and changing a setting unknowingly.  This seems much more user-friendly than navigating through the buttons, and I’m already putting this feature to good use.

– Textured finish on the camera body is a really nice change from my XTi with a smooth finish.  I am surprised how much difference this makes when holding the camera, too.

– Live View falls in the “I may or may not like and/or use this feature” category.  It’s too early to tell, but in this mode, a “curtain” falls over the viewfinder and the camera can be used in a manner more similar to a smart phone –  touch focus, etc.  I think I will likely stay with my traditional viewfinder, as it seems to be a more stable shooting mode.  I can envision times, however, when this might be a good feature to use, probably in video mode and when using the Creative Filters that are now available, since Live View is the only way to see them in-camera.  Again, it just won’t be a feature that I use all that often, I think.

– The IS-STM lenses use a slightly different size lens hood, which is a better petal style lens hood.  My previous lens hood for my smaller lenses was a non-petal style that only helped on a few occasions.  The petal style is similar to the hood that I use on my wide-angle lens.  I purchased this lens hood separately for $29, along with two good Hoya UV filters for the new lenses.

I shared my first photos from the new camera on my previous Wordless Wednesday post.  I did no editing other than to crop them just a bit, and I am thrilled at the results of these handheld shots.

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 The only thing I’ve discovered that is problematic for now is that my Photoshop Elements 9 will not work with the raw files from this camera.  It does not have an available plug-in for the newer raw files.  Apparently the only option is to upgrade to Elements 13 that has the plug-in for the files from this camera.  I’m going to look at all available options for editing software, but I suspect I will just go ahead and upgrade to Elements 13 for now.  I own Lightroom 1 but seldom use it these days.  I’ve used Photoshop Elements since it first came out, though, and I love some features in it, too.  More than anything, I just want to edit photos less and spend more time with the camera shooting, hopefully improving my skills in this area.

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Wordless Wednesday – New Camera and Lenses

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HDR for Mobile Photos

Here is a little mobile phone photo tip for today.  Did you know that many smartphones today have the option to take HDR photos right in the camera app?  HDR stands for High Dynamic (or Definition) Range, and if you want to read a little more about the benefits of HDR photography, just do a quick Google search on the topic.  I won’t attempt to try to explain the detailed ins and outs of HDR imaging because I can’t, but I can share that it is definitely worth using at times.

I have a Samsung Galaxy S3, which I love, and on our trip last weekend to the canyon, I took the photo below with the HDR feature of my phone camera.  I was walking directly toward the sunset, which was breathtakingly beautiful but I also had good golden hour light on the trail, too.  I knew that the camera would have a difficult time capturing proper exposures in both areas, since I was pointing right toward the sunset, so I switched over to HDR mode.

By taking the picture in HDR mode, it actually produces two images with one click of the shutter.  Here are the images straight out of my phone in the order that they were produced.

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First Image – Normal Exposure
HDR Image
Second Image – HDR Combined Exposures

HDR seems to work a little photographic “magic” by taking several images with various exposures and merging them into one final image, using the correct exposure for each part of the photograph as best it can.  HDR is not a perfect process by any means, but it can help to compensate for difficult exposures at times.  While I’m not sure exactly how many images my phone camera uses to produce the final HDR image, my camera gives me what appears to be a normal picture and a HDR picture each time I use that setting, and the pictures have the same file name.

I don’t think that either of the pictures above is a good one.  In the first image, the sky was over-exposed and did not capture the beauty of the sunset at all, which is what I wanted to capture the most.  However, if I made an in-camera adjustment to the ISO, I knew that the trail area would be overly dark.  So, I opted to give the HDR option a try, to see which photo would give me the most detail to work with once I got home and had my regular photo software to make additional adjustments.  The HDR photo definitely gave me more to work with, despite the fact that it has a bit of a flat, unnatural feel to it.  I was able to make just a few more slight adjustments to get the image to more closely resemble the magnificent beauty that my eyes actually saw that wonderful evening on the trail.

On the Canyon Rim Trail just before sunset
Final image after a few more adjustments in PSE

If you haven’t explored this neat feature in your phone’s camera, give it a try sometime and see what results you get.  (On my Galaxy S3, this option is found under Settings in the camera app, then under Shooting Mode.  That is also where several other helpful modes are found, too, such as Panorama.)  I get varied results, depending on the lighting conditions, but often I like to use the HDR image for final processing adjustments.  Just keep in mind that your camera is quickly taking multiple images, and you will want to hold it very still until the processing is done. 😉

We are still in the midst of “The Big Chill” here.  Saturday’s high… the high… was just 17 degrees, and the low was 12 degrees.  Fortunately, we may get above freezing for a little while later today, even though we had another thin layer of ice fall overnight, making the roads slippery once again.  If the temperature rises to the predicted 41 degree “heat wave” later today, we will no doubt get out of the house for a while and try to take Girly Girl out for a walk, too.  The roads cleared a bit for a few hours on Friday afternoon, which was just long enough for me to slip out to do a little Christmas shopping.  Unfortunately, it is supposed to turn colder again tomorrow and remain below freezing once again for at least a couple of days.  Brrrr!!!

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New Phone – HTC EVO

Well, while I may be a little late to the EVO party, I’m glad I have finally arrived!

I upgraded from my HTC Hero a few days ago, and so far, I am very impressed with my new HTC EVO.  I learned to appreciate Android for the first time with my Hero, but that phone was so horribly laggy that I finally had to just give it up and just keep it on hand as a backup if I need it down the road, since Sprint was only willing to give me $17 for it on trade-in… a phone that is barely a year old.  One other thing I found out… Sprint downgraded their Premier program on April 1.  To received the full upgrade pricing on a new phone now, you must be a Sprint customer for 10 years.  Customers for less than ten years only receive a $75

At first, I wasn’t sure if I would like a phone as large as the EVO, but after using it for three days, that fear is gone.  In fact, using my iPod Touch now makes it feel like a miniature device until I use it for a bit.  But, I still enjoy using my iPod Touch, too.  Having an iPod Touch and an EVO certainly seems like having the best of both worlds from a mobile technology standpoint, and if I was willing to part with $30 more each month, I could even use my EVO as a mobile hotspot, too.  Right now, though, that is not really necessary.

I didn’t even need to have the folks at the Sprint store transfer my contacts to my new phone because I already had them all in my Google contacts.  In fact, I asked them to not transfer anything and just let the Google sync transfer them.  It worked like a charm, as well as transferring all of my calendar information, too.  It was the most seamless phone transition for me to date.  All of my information was there in my new phone before I left the store.

The only slight issue I’ve had is not with the phone, but in the 4G coverage in my area.  It seems that our house sits right in a tiny 4G “hole.”  Supposedly 4G coverage will improve for us in about 90 days, according to tech support.  I certainly hope so.  Sprint’s call-in customer support continues to be top-notch for me, even if I often have to ask to speak to a supervisor.  Once at that next level of support for issues like this, I have never been disappointed.  They can’t help that I live in a 4G “hole,” but they did what they could and got me the answer I needed for now.   As far as a 4G review… sorry.  Looks like I’m out of luck for now on that front.  I’ll have to test it out elsewhere sometime.

I have played with iPhones that friends and family members have, and I think the EVO is as good, if not better in a few respects, than their iPhones.  I could certainly be happy with either one, but right now, I would keep my EVO over their iPhones because of the home screens that can be customized any way I want.  The live wallpaper is also a fun touch that the iPhone does not have right now, too.  My EVO is very fast, unlike my former Hero that was so laggy that I was tempted to just throw it against a wall at times out of frustration.  The EVO screen is crystal clear and vivid, even after I put a Zagg Invisible Shield screen protector on it.

The other important feature to me is the 8 megapixel camera.  My Hero’s camera was less than desirable, for sure.  I have wanted a decent mobile camera for a long time, and now I have one.  While EVO also has a smaller forward facing camera, I don’t really see me using it too much.  It is just a nice little extra to have if I ever need it.  To enhance my mobile photos even more, I also downloaded Photoshop mobile, Little Photo and Vignette.  Photoshop is good for some very basic edits, while Little Photo and Vignette offer some great enhancements that are not gimmicky like some of the other photo apps.  I will also patiently wait for Instagram to make its way to Android, too.  I hope it is available soon.

My photo apps for the EVO with the aquarium live wallpaper running in the background

For now, I have opted to try to get by with the original camera battery and not buy the extended life battery, which is about $60.  The extended battery is huge and adds more weight to the phone, and there are presently no covers that will fit on the phone while using that battery.  I knew in advance that this phone sucks the battery pretty badly, so I’m aware that I’m going to have to work with that situation more in the future.  I will likely go ahead and buy a second (regular) battery for it, and I already have the car charger and a second wall plug for convenience.  I also plan to keep Wifi, GPS and some other battery draining features turned off unless I need them, including some of the automatic syncing capabilities.

I’m still researching apps in the Android Market, but I think I’m just about done with setting my up new EVO.  It really is a great phone!  I will be quite happy to use it for the next two years!

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Fotos

“Sometimes I get to places just when God’s ready for someone to click the shutter.”
— Ansel Adams

Please forgive me for using “Fotos” instead of “Photos.”  Thank you.  It worked with my “Five F’s,” and I thought it was cute.

Now that the apologies are out of the way, I want to introduce my favorite hobby… digital photography and photo editing!  Just typing those words makes me happy.

I confess that I am a newbie as of late 2007 to the non-point-and-shoot club.  Both my husband and I always wanted to delve into quality photography, and early in our marriage, we invested in a Pentax 35mm camera set.

Our first good camera, purchased in about 1985, I believe

Neither of us ever really got the hang of it, though, due to time and money constraints.  Experimenting with rolls and rolls of film and developing costs for that film just did not fit into our early marriage budget.  Ultimately, the camera made it’s way to the top of a closet, and that was it for our first attempt at photography.  From time to time, we continued to look at good digital SLR cameras, but we never bought one.  Something was starting to swell in me about pursuing photography, though, and I think my husband picked up that I was really serious this time.

Fast forward to Christmas Day, 2007.

I try to not put treasure in earthly things.  I really do.  But I must confess that when I opened my gift from my husband that Christmas that I was just blown away… really and truly.  With my family eagerly watching, I unwrapped my new Canon Digital Rebel XTi, (detailed info) the most current Canon DSLR at that time.  If I didn’t cry, I know that I wanted to very badly.  I never realized until I opened the box just how much I wanted to explore photography.  Now that I have experimented with it for almost three years, I think I know why.

I am a “visual” person.  If you want me to learn something new, you will do well to give it to me in writing and not tell me verbally because I am 1000 times more likely to pick it up that way. I am often mesmerized by the sight of something, and honestly, that can be almost anything…. a beautiful sunset, a hummingbird at the feeder, a homeless person on the street, a new baby right after he is born, or my big ol’ poodle taking a nap.  It’s like there is something that resonates inside and says, “This moment is special and needs to be preserved because it won’t come again.” This has been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember.  It is why I now take 150 pictures at my great-nephew’s birthday party.

Just look at those eyelashes and the Indiana Jones hat!

I truly believe that sometimes God is “nudging” me in what I see, so that I will wake up and take notice what he has laid before me to appreciate or notice that something needs to change.  My opening quote by Ansel Adams is my absolute favorite thought regarding photography in general, and I plan to talk more about by budding love “no color” photography at some point, too.

Part of my desire to take good pictures also stems from the experience of trying to preserve the photos of my parents… the only visual record of our family from those days.

My grandmother (right) and her sister (left) as young women, most likely taken around 1910. Her sister looks exactly like one of my cousins as a young woman.

Both my sister and I have worked on this project, and we still have more work to do.  Bless her heart, my sister sat at a scanner and literally scanned hundred of old paper photos.  I have worked to restore some of them digitally as best I can.  And we are still trying to figure out the best (and most affordable) way to preserve hundreds of slides.  But, the reward of having our oldest family pictures preserved in a better format is very rewarding indeed.  Someday, I believe that younger family members will appreciate having our quality pictures in digital format, already organized in an online database can also be searched with relative ease.  Perhaps not.  But, I will have one there for them, just in case.

The art of photography, for me, is moving the image and feeling (especially the feeling) that is so vivid in my mind to the digital image that others see, and doing it as accurately as possible.

Our big ol’ baby, now 13 years old on a “dog day afternoon”

I needed better equipment to accomplish this feat, including digital imaging software.  When I opened that camera on Christmas Day in 2007, I knew that was the first step to making a dream come true… helping others to see what I see and even understand a bit more about who I really am and what my values are.

While equipment is very important, there are techniques for good photography that can be applied to any camera, including my trusty little point-and-shoot and even my phone camera.  Even most of the basic point-and-shoot cameras today have untapped capabilities beyond what most people care to explore.  I still have a Nikon point-and-shoot camera in my purse at all times, so I’ll explore more on this topic here, too.

I have learned much, but I still have much, much more to learn.  It is all pure joy, too.  Grab your camera and come along for the journey!

Visually yours,

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